The implications of hiring and firing

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The implications of hiring and firing

In the last few weeks we have come across several people who were let go for what appeared to be no particular reason. Of course there is always a reason, but it is not always obvious to the person being sacked. And without knowing the reason, one is forced to do a lot of soul-searching that may turn out to be fruitless, and might hinder the making of appropriate decisions.

In one of the cases it was known well in advance that the layoff was to take place. In desperation the man tried to avoid being let go: He came to work earlier, left later, took shorter lunches, and tried to maximize his productivity. As it turned out, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the work he was doing. It simply happened that the company wanted to hire someone else in an entirely different area, albeit within the same group, but there was a freeze on headcount. A relatively arbitrary decision was made as to whom to let go, and he was it. Would knowing this have helped him in any way? Not in terms of keeping his job, but it would likely have helped in negotiating his separation package. There is also the question as to whether the gains in the area where the new man worked would, long term, compensate for the losses caused by our person leaving.

In a more interesting case, a woman was let go when her boss was replaced. Again the reason was unclear until long after the event. In this case the new boss merely wanted a clean sweep of personnel, and to bring in her own people. Unfortunately, the job was a high-level technical job at which the woman was extremely skilled, and the company was forced to hire three new people to do the same work. The boss, who had little to no understanding of what was being done, was herself let go within a short period of time, and the company has suffered greatly because of the lack of productivity in this area, ending up folding a division.

More interesting still, largely because the story is practically archetypal, was a company that had a salesman who was wildly successful. The owner realized one day that the salesman was making substantially more than was he. Following an all too common path, he started restricting territory, cutting commissions, and taking all the usual steps to drive his best salesman away. He finally succeeded, and the company ultimately folded for lack of revenue.

In another case, a major American film maker decided that as a cost-cutting method it would offer people early retirement, and a lot of people took advantage of this. Rumor has it that among those retiring were many of the people who knew how to cook up one of their trademark film emulsions.

Apparently, making film emulsions, like cooking, is as much art as science. While a claim can be made that this merely helped propel them into the world of digital photography, it should have been done by choice, not by chance.

The bottom line is that people are the most important resource of a company, and it is important to look carefully at what is being lost in a layoff, as well as what is being gained.

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